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Republic of the Philippines suit in behalf of the Muslim members nationwide against MVRS

SUPREME COURT PUBLICATIONS, INC., MARS C. LACONSAY, MYLA C. AGUJA and


Manila AGUSTINO G. BINEGAS, JR., arising from an article published in
the 1 August 1992 issue of Bulgar, a daily tabloid. The article reads:
EN BANC
"ALAM BA NINYO?
G.R. No. 135306 January 28, 2003
Na ang mga baboy at kahit anong uri ng hayop sa Mindanao
MVRS PUBLICATIONS, INC., MARS C. LACONSAY, MYLA C. ay hindi kinakain ng mga Muslim?
AGUJA and AGUSTINO G. BINEGAS, JR.,petitioners,
vs. Para sa kanila ang mga ito ay isang sagradong bagay. Hindi
ISLAMIC DA'WAH COUNCIL OF THE PHILIPPINES, INC., nila ito kailangang kainin kahit na sila pa ay magutom at
ABDULRAHMAN R.T. LINZAG, IBRAHIM F.P. ARCILLA, ABDUL mawalan ng ulam sa tuwing sila ay kakain. Ginagawa nila
RASHID DE GUZMAN, AL-FARED DA SILVA and IBRAHIM B.A. itong Diyos at sinasamba pa nila ito sa tuwing araw ng
JUNIO, respondents. kanilang pangingilin lalung-lalo na sa araw na tinatawag
nilang 'Ramadan'."
BELLOSILLO, J.:
The complaint alleged that the libelous statement was insulting and
I may utterly detest what you write, but I shall fight to the damaging to the Muslims; that these words alluding to the pig as the
death to make it possible for you to continue writing it. God of the Muslims was not only published out of sheer ignorance
but with intent to hurt the feelings, cast insult and disparage the
Muslims and Islam, as a religion in this country, in violation of law,
Voltaire public policy, good morals and human relations; that on account of
these libelous words Bulgar insulted not only the Muslims in the
VOLTAIRE'S PONTIFICAL VERSE bestirs once again the basic Philippines but the entire Muslim world, especially every Muslim
liberties to free speech and free press liberties that belong as well, individual in non-Muslim countries.
if not more, to those who question, who do not conform, who differ.
For the ultimate good which we all strive to achieve for ourselves and MVRS PUBLICATIONS, INC., and AGUSTINO G. BINEGAS, JR., in
our posterity can better be reached by a free exchange of ideas, their defense, contended that the article did not mention respondents
where the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself as the object of the article and therefore were not entitled to
accepted in the competition of the free market not just the ideas damages; and, that the article was merely an expression of belief or
we desire, but including those thoughts we despise.1 opinion and was published without malice nor intention to cause
damage, prejudice or injury to Muslims.2
ISLAMIC DA'WAH COUNCIL OF THE PHILIPPINES, INC., a local
federation of more than seventy (70) Muslim religious organizations, On 30 June 1995 the trial court dismissed the complaint holding that
and individual Muslims ABDULRAHMAN R.T. LINZAG, IBRAHIM the plaintiffs failed to establish their cause of action since the
F.P. ARCILLA, ABDUL RASHID DE GUZMAN, AL-FARED DA persons allegedly defamed by the article were not specifically
SILVA and IBRAHIM B.A. JUNIO, filed in the Regional Trial Court of identified
Manila a complaint for damages in their own behalf and as a class
It must be noted that the persons allegedly defamed, the It must be stressed that words which are merely insulting are not
herein plaintiffs, were not identified with specificity. The actionable as libel or slander per se, and mere words of general
subject article was directed at the Muslims without abuse however opprobrious, ill-natured, or vexatious, whether written
mentioning or identifying the herein plaintiffs x x x. It is thus or spoken, do not constitute a basis for an action for defamation in
apparent that the alleged libelous article refers to the larger the absence of an allegation for special damages.9 The fact that the
collectivity of Muslims for which the readers of the libel could language is offensive to the plaintiff does not make it actionable by
not readily identify the personalities of the persons defamed. itself.10
Hence, it is difficult for an individual Muslim member to prove
that the defamatory remarks apply to him. The evidence Declarations made about a large class of people cannot be
presented in this case failed to convince this court that, interpreted to advert to an identified or identifiable individual. Absent
indeed, the defamatory remarks really applied to the herein circumstances specifically pointing or alluding to a particular member
plaintiffs.3 of a class, no member of such class has a right of action11 without at
all impairing the equally demanding right of free speech and
On 27 August 1998 the Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the expression, as well as of the press, under the Bill of Rights.12 Thus,
trial court. It opined that it was "clear from the disputed article that in Newsweek, Inc. v. Intermediate Appellate Court,13 we dismissed a
the defamation was directed to all adherents of the Islamic faith. It complaint for libel against Newsweek, Inc., on the ground that private
stated that pigs were sacred and idolized as god by members of the respondents failed to state a cause of action since they made no
Muslim religion. This libelous imputation undeniably applied to the allegation in the complaint that anything contained in the article
plaintiff-appellants who are Muslims sharing the same religious complained of specifically referred to any of them. Private
beliefs." It added that the suit for damages was a "class suit" and that respondents, incorporated associations of sugarcane planters in
ISLAMIC DA'WAH COUNCIL OF THE PHILIPPINES, INC.'s Negros Occidental claiming to have 8,500 members and several
religious status as a Muslim umbrella organization gave it the individual members, filed a class action suit for damages in behalf of
requisite personality to sue and protect the interests of all Muslims. 4 all sugarcane planters in Negros Occidental. The complaint filed in
the Court of First Instance of Bacolod City alleged that Newsweek,
Hence, the instant petition for review assailing the findings of the Inc., committed libel against them by the publication of the article
appellate court (a) on the existence of the elements of libel, (b) the "Island of Fear" in its weekly newsmagazine allegedly depicting
right of respondents to institute the class suit, and, (c) the liability of Negros Province as a place dominated by wealthy landowners and
petitioners for moral damages, exemplary damages, attorney's fees sugar planters who not only exploited the impoverished and
and costs of suit. underpaid sugarcane workers but also brutalized and killed them
with impunity. Private respondents alleged that the article showed a
Defamation, which includes libel and slander, means the offense of deliberate and malicious use of falsehood, slanted presentation
and/or misrepresentation of facts intended to put the sugarcane
injuring a person's character, fame or reputation through false and
planters in a bad light, expose them to public ridicule, discredit and
malicious statements.5 It is that which tends to injure reputation or to
humiliation in the Philippines and abroad, and make them the objects
diminish the esteem, respect, good will or confidence in the plaintiff
of hatred, contempt and hostility of their agricultural workers and of
or to excite derogatory feelings or opinions about the plaintiff.6 It is
the publication of anything which is injurious to the good name or the public in general. We ratiocinated
reputation of another or tends to bring him into
disrepute.7 Defamation is an invasion of a relational interest since it x x x where the defamation is alleged to have been directed
involves the opinion which others in the community may have, or at a group or class, it is essential that the statement must be
tend to have, of the plaintiff.8 so sweeping or all-embracing as to apply to every individual
in that group or class, or sufficiently specific so that each action on the part of an individual unless it can be shown that he is
individual in the class or group can prove that the the target of the defamatory matter.
defamatory statement specifically pointed to him, so that he
can bring the action separately, if need be x x x x The case The rule on libel has been restrictive. In an American case,15 a
at bar is not a class suit. It is not a case where one or more person had allegedly committed libel against all persons of the
may sue for the benefit of all, or where the representation of Jewish religion. The Court held that there could be no libel against
class interest affected by the judgment or decree is an extensive community in common law. In an English case, where
indispensable to make each member of the class an actual libel consisted of allegations of immorality in a Catholic nunnery, the
party. We have here a case where each of the plaintiffs has Court considered that if the libel were on the whole Roman Catholic
a separate and distinct reputation in the community. They do Church generally, then the defendant must be absolved.16 With
not have a common or general interest in the subject matter regard to the largest sectors in society, including religious groups, it
of the controversy. may be generally concluded that no criminal action at the behest of
the state, or civil action on behalf of the individual, will lie.
In the present case, there was no fairly identifiable person who was
allegedly injured by the Bulgar article. Since the persons allegedly In another case, the plaintiffs claimed that all Muslims, numbering
defamed could not be identifiable, private respondents have no more than 600 million, were defamed by the airing of a national
individual causes of action; hence, they cannot sue for a class television broadcast of a film depicting the public execution of a
allegedly disparaged. Private respondents must have a cause of Saudi Arabian princess accused of adultery, and alleging that such
action in common with the class to which they belong to in order for film was "insulting and defamatory" to the Islamic religion.17 The
the case to prosper. United States District Court of the Northern District of California
concluded that the plaintiffs' prayer for $20 Billion in damages arising
An individual Muslim has a reputation that is personal, separate and from "an international conspiracy to insult, ridicule, discredit and
distinct in the community. Each Muslim, as part of the larger Muslim abuse followers of Islam throughout the world, Arabs and the
community in the Philippines of over five (5) million people, belongs Kingdom of Saudi Arabia" bordered on the "frivolous," ruling that the
to a different trade and profession; each has a varying interest and a plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate an actionable claim for
divergent political and religious view some may be conservative, defamation. The California Court stressed that the aim of the law on
others liberal. A Muslim may find the article dishonorable, even defamation was to protect individuals; a group may be sufficiently
blasphemous; others may find it as an opportunity to strengthen their large that a statement concerning it could not defame individual
faith and educate the non-believers and the "infidels." There is no group members.18
injury to the reputation of the individual Muslims who constitute this
community that can give rise to an action for group libel. Each Philip Wittenberg, in his book "Dangerous Words: A Guide to the
reputation is personal in character to every person. Together, the Law of Libel,"19 discusses the inappropriateness of any action for
Muslims do not have a single common reputation that will give them tortious libel involving large groups, and provides a succinct
a common or general interest in the subject matter of the illustration:
controversy.
There are groupings which may be finite enough so that a
In Arcand v. The Evening Call Publishing Company,14 the United description of the body is a description of the members. Here
States Court of Appeals held that one guiding principle of group libel the problem is merely one of evaluation. Is the description of
is that defamation of a large group does not give rise to a cause of the member implicit in the description of the body, or is there
a possibility that a description of the body may consist of a comprising a heterogeneous body whose construction is not so well
variety of persons, those included within the charge, and defined as to render it impossible for any representative
those excluded from it? identification.

A general charge that the lawyers in the city are shysters The Christian religion in the Philippines is likewise divided into
would obviously not be a charge that all of the lawyers were different sects: Catholic, Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian,
shysters. A charge that the lawyers in a local point in a great Lutheran, and other groups the essence of which may lie in an
city, such as Times Square in New York City, were shysters inspired charlatan, whose temple may be a corner house in the
would obviously not include all of the lawyers who practiced fringes of the countryside. As with the Christian religion, so it is with
in that district; but a statement that all of the lawyers who other religions that represent the nation's culturally diverse people
practiced in a particular building in that district were shysters and minister to each one's spiritual needs. The Muslim population
would be a specific charge, so that any lawyer having an may be divided into smaller groups with varying agenda, from the
office within that building could sue. prayerful conservative to the passionately radical. These divisions in
the Muslim population may still be too large and ambiguous to
If the group is a very large one, then the alleged libelous statement is provide a reasonable inference to any personality who can bring a
considered to have no application to anyone in particular, since one case in an action for libel.
might as well defame all mankind. Not only does the group as such
have no action; the plaintiff does not establish any personal The foregoing are in essence the same view scholarly expressed by
reference to himself.20 At present, modern societal groups are both Mr. Justice Reynato S. Puno in the course of the deliberations in this
numerous and complex. The same principle follows with these case. We extensively reproduce hereunder his comprehensive and
groups: as the size of these groups increases, the chances for penetrating discussion on group libel
members of such groups to recover damages on tortious libel
become elusive. This principle is said to embrace two (2) important Defamation is made up of the twin torts of libel and slander
public policies: first, where the group referred to is large, the courts the one being, in general, written, while the other in
presume that no reasonable reader would take the statements as so general is oral. In either form, defamation is an invasion of
literally applying to each individual member; and second, the the interest in reputation and good name. This is a "relational
limitation on liability would satisfactorily safeguard freedom of speech interest" since it involves the opinion others in the community
and expression, as well as of the press, effecting a sound may have, or tend to have of the plaintiff.
compromise between the conflicting fundamental interests involved
in libel cases.21 The law of defamation protects the interest in reputation
the interest in acquiring, retaining and enjoying one's
In the instant case, the Muslim community is too vast as to readily reputation as good as one's character and conduct warrant.
ascertain who among the Muslims were particularly defamed. The The mere fact that the plaintiff's feelings and sensibilities
size of the group renders the reference as indeterminate and generic have been offended is not enough to create a cause of
as a similar attack on Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists or Mormons action for defamation. Defamation requires that something
would do. The word "Muslim" is descriptive of those who are be communicated to a third person that may affect the
believers of Islam, a religion divided into varying sects, such as the opinion others may have of the plaintiff. The unprivileged
Sunnites, the Shiites, the Kharijites, the Sufis and others based upon communication must be shown of a statement that would
political and theological distinctions. "Muslim" is a name which
describes only a general segment of the Philippine population,
tend to hurt plaintiff's reputation, to impair plaintiff's standing the more difficult it is for an individual member to show that
in the community. he was the person at whom the defamation was directed.

Although the gist of an action for defamation is an injury to If the defamatory statements were directed at a small,
reputation, the focus of a defamation action is upon the restricted group of persons, they applied to any member of
allegedly defamatory statement itself and its predictable the group, and an individual member could maintain an
effect upon third persons. A statement is ordinarily action for defamation. When the defamatory language was
considered defamatory if it "tend[s] to expose one to public used toward a small group or class, including every member,
hatred, shame, obloquy, contumely, odium, contempt, it has been held that the defamatory language referred to
ridicule, aversion, ostracism, degradation or disgracex x x." each member so that each could maintain an action. This
The Restatement of Torts defines a defamatory statement as small group or class may be a jury, persons engaged in
one that "tends to so harm the reputation of another as to certain businesses, professions or employments, a restricted
lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third subdivision of a particular class, a society, a football team, a
persons from associating or dealing with him." family, small groups of union officials, a board of public
officers, or engineers of a particular company.
Consequently as a prerequisite to recovery, it is necessary
for the plaintiff to prove as part of his prima faciecase that In contrast, if defamatory words are used broadly in respect
the defendant (1) published a statement that was (2) to a large class or group of persons, and there is nothing that
defamatory (3) of and concerning the plaintiff. points, or by proper colloquium or innuendo can be made to
apply, to a particular member of the class or group, no
The rule in libel is that the action must be brought by the member has a right of action for libel or slander. Where the
person against whom the defamatory charge has been defamatory matter had no special, personal application and
made. In the American jurisdiction, no action lies by a third was so general that no individual damages could be
person for damages suffered by reason of defamation of presumed, and where the class referred to was so numerous
another person, even though the plaintiff suffers some injury that great vexation and oppression might grow out of the
therefrom. For recovery in defamation cases, it is necessary multiplicity of suits, no private action could be maintained.
that the publication be "of and concerning the plaintiff." Even This rule has been applied to defamatory publications
when a publication may be clearly defamatory as to concerning groups or classes of persons engaged in a
somebody, if the words have no personal application to the particular business, profession or employment, directed at
plaintiff, they are not actionable by him. If no one is associations or groups of association officials, and to those
identified, there can be no libel because no one's reputation directed at miscellaneous groups or classes of persons.
has been injured x x x x
Distinguishing a small group which if defamed entitles all
In fine, in order for one to maintain an action for an alleged its members to sue from a large group which if defamed
defamatory statement, it must appear that the plaintiff is the entitles no one to sue is not always so simple. Some
person with reference to whom the statement was made. authorities have noted that in cases permitting recovery, the
This principle is of vital importance in cases where a group group generally has twenty five (25) or fewer members.
or class is defamed since, usually, the larger the collective, However, there is usually no articulated limit on size. Suits
have been permitted by members of fairly large groups when
some distinguishing characteristic of the individual or group
increases the likelihood that the statement could be Our conclusion therefore is that the statements published by
interpreted to apply individually. For example, a single player petitioners in the instant case did not specifically identify nor refer to
on the 60 to 70 man Oklahoma University football team was any particular individuals who were purportedly the subject of the
permitted to sue when a writer accused the entire team of alleged libelous publication. Respondents can scarcely claim to
taking amphetamines to "hop up" its performance; the having been singled out for social censure pointedly resulting in
individual was a fullback, i.e., a significant position on the damages.
team and had played in all but two of the team's games.
A contrary view is expressed that what is involved in the present
A prime consideration, therefore, is the public perception of case is an intentional tortious act causing mental distress and not an
the size of the group and whether a statement will be action for libel. That opinion invokes Chaplinsky v. New
interpreted to refer to every member. The more organized Hampshire22 where the U.S. Supreme Court held that words heaping
and cohesive a group, the easier it is to tar all its members extreme profanity, intended merely to incite hostility, hatred or
with the same brush and the more likely a court will permit a violence, have no social value and do not enjoy constitutional
suit from an individual even if the group includes more than protection; and Beauharnais v. Illinois23 where it was also ruled that
twenty five (25) members. At some point, however, hate speech which denigrates a group of persons identified by their
increasing size may be seen to dilute the harm to individuals religion, race or ethnic origin defames that group and the law may
and any resulting injury will fall beneath the threshold for a validly prohibit such speech on the same ground as defamation of an
viable lawsuit. individual.

x x x x There are many other groupings of men than those We do not agree to the contrary view articulated in the immediately
that are contained within the foregoing group classifications. preceding paragraph. Primarily, an "emotional distress" tort action is
There are all the religions of the world, there are all the personal in nature, i.e., it is a civil action filed by an individual24 to
political and ideological beliefs; there are the many colors of assuage the injuries to his emotional tranquility due to personal
the human race. Group defamation has been a fertile and attacks on his character. It has no application in the instant case
dangerous weapon of attack on various racial, religious and since no particular individual was identified in the disputed article
political minorities. Some states, therefore, have passed of Bulgar. Also, the purported damage caused by the article,
statutes to prevent concerted efforts to harass minority assuming there was any, falls under the principle of relational
groups in the United States by making it a crime to circulate harm which includes harm to social relationships in the community
insidious rumors against racial and religious groups. Thus in the form of defamation; as distinguished from the principle
far, any civil remedy for such broadside defamation has of reactive harm which includes injuries to individual emotional
been lacking. tranquility in the form of an infliction of emotional distress. In their
complaint, respondents clearly asserted an alleged harm to the
There have been numerous attempts by individual members standing of Muslims in the community, especially to their activities in
to seek redress in the courts for libel on these groups, but propagating their faith in Metro Manila and in other non-Muslim
very few have succeeded because it felt that the groups are communities in the country.25It is thus beyond cavil that the present
too large and poorly defined to support a finding that the case falls within the application of the relational harm principle of tort
plaintiff was singled out for personal attack x x x x (citations actions for defamation, rather than the reactive harm principle on
omitted). which the concept of emotional distress properly belongs.
Moreover, under the Second Restatement of the Law, to recover for other will regard the conduct as insulting, or will have his feelings
the intentional infliction of emotional distress the plaintiff must show hurt, is not enough.32
that: (a) The conduct of the defendant was intentional or in reckless
disregard of the plaintiff; (b) The conduct was extreme and Hustler Magazine v. Falwell33 illustrates the test case of a civil action
outrageous; (c) There was a causal connection between the for damages on intentional infliction of emotional distress. A parody
defendant's conduct and the plaintiff's mental distress; and, (d) The appeared in Hustler magazine featuring the American fundamentalist
plaintiff's mental distress was extreme and severe.26 preacher and evangelist Reverend Jerry Falwell depicting him in an
inebriated state having an incestuous, sexual liaison with his mother
"Extreme and outrageous conduct" means conduct that is so in an outhouse. Falwell sued Hustler and its publisher Larry Flynt for
outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond damages. The United States District Court for the Western District of
all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and Virginia ruled that the parody was not libelous, because no
utterly intolerable in civilized society. The defendant's actions must reasonable reader would have understood it as a factual assertion
have been so terrifying as naturally to humiliate, embarrass or that Falwell engaged in the act described. The jury, however,
frighten the plaintiff.27 Generally, conduct will be found to be awarded $200,000 in damages on a separate count of "intentional
actionable where the recitation of the facts to an average member of infliction of emotional distress," a cause of action that did not require
the community would arouse his resentment against the actor, and a false statement of fact to be made. The United States Supreme
lead him or her to exclaim, "Outrageous!" as his or her reaction.28 Court in a unanimous decision overturned the jury verdict of the
Virginia Court and held that Reverend Falwell may not recover for
"Emotional distress" means any highly unpleasant mental reaction intentional infliction of emotional distress. It was argued that the
such as extreme grief, shame, humiliation, embarrassment, anger, material might be deemed outrageous and may have been intended
disappointment, worry, nausea, mental suffering and anguish, shock, to cause severe emotional distress, but these circumstances were
fright, horror, and chagrin.29 "Severe emotional distress," in some not sufficient to overcome the free speech rights guaranteed under
jurisdictions, refers to any type of severe and disabling emotional or the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Simply
mental condition which may be generally recognized and diagnosed stated, an intentional tort causing emotional distress must
by professionals trained to do so, including posttraumatic stress necessarily give way to the fundamental right to free speech.
disorder, neurosis, psychosis, chronic depression, or phobia.30 The
plaintiff is required to show, among other things, that he or she has It must be observed that although Falwell was regarded by the U.S.
suffered emotional distress so severe that no reasonable person High Court as a "public figure," he was anindividual particularly
could be expected to endure it; severity of the distress is an element singled out or identified in the parody appearing on Hustler
of the cause of action, not simply a matter of damages.31 magazine. Also, the emotional distress allegedly suffered by
Reverend Falwell involved a reactive interest an emotional
Any party seeking recovery for mental anguish must prove more than response to the parody which supposedly injured his psychological
mere worry, anxiety, vexation, embarrassment, or anger. Liability well-being.
does not arise from mere insults, indignities, threats, annoyances,
petty expressions, or other trivialities. In determining whether the tort Verily, our position is clear that the conduct of petitioners was not
of outrage had been committed, a plaintiff is necessarily expected extreme or outrageous. Neither was the emotional distress allegedly
and required to be hardened to a certain amount of criticism, rough suffered by respondents so severe that no reasonable person could
language, and to occasional acts and words that are definitely be expected to endure it. There is no evidence on record that points
inconsiderate and unkind; the mere fact that the actor knows that the to that result.
Professor William Prosser, views tort actions on intentional infliction Theory, that treated certain types of expression as taboo forms of
of emotional distress in this manner34 speech, beneath the dignity of the First Amendment. The most
celebrated statement of this view was expressed in Chaplinsky:
There is virtually unanimous agreement that such ordinary
defendants are not liable for mere insult, indignity, There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes
annoyance, or even threats, where the case is lacking in of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have
other circumstances of aggravation. The reasons are not far never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem.
to seek. Our manners, and with them our law, have not yet These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the
progressed to the point where we are able to afford a libelous, and the insulting or "fighting" words those which
remedy in the form of tort damages for all intended mental by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an
disturbance. Liability of course cannot be extended to every immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed
trivial indignity x x x x The plaintiff must necessarily be that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition
expected and required to be hardened to a certain amount of of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth
rough language, and to acts that are definitely inconsiderate that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly
and unkind x x x The plaintiff cannot recover merely because outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.
of hurt feelings.
Today, however, the theory is no longer viable; modern First
Professor Calvert Magruder reinforces Prosser with this succinct Amendment principles have passed it by. American courts no longer
observation, viz:35 accept the view that speech may be proscribed merely because it is
"lewd," "profane," "insulting" or otherwise vulgar or
There is no occasion for the law to intervene in every case offensive.38 Cohen v. California39 is illustrative: Paul Robert Cohen
where someone's feelings are hurt. There must still be wore a jacket bearing the words "Fuck the Draft" in a Los Angeles
freedom to express an unflattering opinion, and some safety courthouse in April 1968, which caused his eventual arrest. Cohen
valve must be left through which irascible tempers may blow was convicted for violating a California statute prohibiting any person
off relatively harmless steam. from "disturb[ing] the peace x x x by offensive conduct." The U.S.
Supreme Court conceded that Cohen's expletive contained in his
jacket was "vulgar," but it concluded that his speech was
Thus, it is evident that even American courts are reluctant to adopt a
nonetheless protected by the right to free speech. It was neither
rule of recovery for emotional harm that would "open up a wide vista
of litigation in the field of bad manners," an area in which a considered an "incitement" to illegal action nor "obscenity." It did not
"toughening of the mental hide" was thought to be a more constitute insulting or "fighting" words for it had not been directed at
a person who was likely to retaliate or at someone who could not
appropriate remedy.36 Perhaps of greater concern were the
avoid the message. In other words, no one was present in the Los
questions of causation, proof, and the ability to accurately assess
Angeles courthouse who would have regarded Cohen's speech as a
damages for emotional harm, each of which continues to concern
direct personal insult, nor was there any danger of reactive violence
courts today.37
against him.
In this connection, the doctrines in Chaplinsky and Beauharnais had
No specific individual was targeted in the allegedly defamatory words
largely been superseded by subsequent First Amendment doctrines.
printed on Cohen's jacket. The conviction could only be justified by
Back in simpler times in the history of free expression the Supreme
Court appeared to espouse a theory, known as the Two-Class California's desire to exercise the broad power in preserving the
cleanliness of discourse in the public sphere, which the U.S.
Supreme Court refused to grant to the State, holding that no assembling with a group formed to teach or advocate the doctrines
objective distinctions can be made between vulgar and nonvulgar of criminal syndicalism. Appellant challenged the statute and was
speech, and that the emotive elements of speech are just as sustained by the U.S. Supreme Court, holding that the advocacy of
essential in the exercise of this right as the purely cognitive. As Mr. illegal action becomes punishable only if such advocacy is directed
Justice Harlan so eloquently wrote: "[O]ne man's vulgarity is another to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite
man's lyric x x x words are often chosen as much for their emotive as or produce such action.45 Except in unusual
their cognitive force."40 With Cohen, the U.S. Supreme Court finally instances, Brandenburg protects the advocacy of lawlessness as
laid the Constitutional foundation for judicial protection of provocative long as such speech is not translated into action.
and potentially offensive speech.
The importance of the Brandenburg ruling cannot be
Similarly, libelous speech is no longer outside the First Amendment overemphasized. Prof. Smolla affirmed that "Brandenburgmust be
protection. Only one small piece of the Two-Class understood as overruling Beauharnais and eliminating the possibility
Theory in Chaplinsky survives U.S. courts continue to treat of treating group libel under the same First Amendment standards as
"obscene" speech as not within the protection of the First individual libel."46 It may well be considered as one of the lynchpins
Amendment at all. With respect to the "fighting words" doctrine, while of the modern doctrine of free speech, which seeks to give special
it remains alive it was modified by the current rigorous clear and protection to politically relevant speech.
present danger test.41 Thus, in Cohen the U.S. Supreme Court in
applying the test held that there was no showing that Cohen's jacket In any case, respondents' lack of cause of action cannot be cured by
bearing the words "Fuck the Draft" had threatened to provoke the filing of a class suit. As correctly pointed out by Mr. Justice Jose
imminent violence; and that protecting the sensibilities of onlookers C. Vitug during the deliberations, "an element of a class suit is the
was not sufficiently compelling interest to restrain Cohen's speech. adequacy of representation. In determining the question of fair and
adequate representation of members of a class, the court must
Beauharnais, which closely followed the Chaplinsky doctrine, consider (a) whether the interest of the named party is coextensive
suffered the same fate as Chaplinsky. Indeed, with the interest of the other members of the class; (b) the proportion
whenBeauharnais was decided in 1952, the Two-Class Theory was of those made parties as it so bears to the total membership of the
still flourishing. While concededly the U.S. High Tribunal did not class; and, (c) any other factor bearing on the ability of the named
formally abandon Beauharnais, the seminal shifts in U.S. party to speak for the rest of the class.47
constitutional jurisprudence substantially undercut Beauharnais and
seriously undermined what is left of its vitality as a precedent. Among The rules require that courts must make sure that the persons
the cases that dealt a crushing impact on Beauharnais and rendered intervening should be sufficiently numerous to fully protect the
it almost certainly a dead letter case law are Brandenburg v. interests of all concerned. In the present controversy, Islamic Da'wah
Ohio,42 and, again, Cohen v. California.43 These decisions recognize Council of the Philippines, Inc., seeks in effect to assert the interests
a much narrower set of permissible grounds for restricting speech not only of the Muslims in the Philippines but of the whole Muslim
than did Beauharnais.44 world as well. Private respondents obviously lack the sufficiency of
numbers to represent such a global group; neither have they been
In Brandenburg, appellant who was a leader of the Ku Klux Klan was able to demonstrate the identity of their interests with those they
convicted under the Ohio Criminal Syndicalism Statute for seek to represent. Unless it can be shown that there can be a safe
advocating the necessity, duty and propriety of crime, sabotage, guaranty that those absent will be adequately represented by those
violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of present, a class suit, given its magnitude in this instance, would be
accomplishing industrial or political reforms; and for voluntarily unavailing."48
Likewise on the matter of damages, we agree that "moral damages ideas."53 Denying certiorari and affirming the appellate court decision
may be recovered only if the plaintiff is able to satisfactorily prove the would surely create a chilling effect on the constitutional guarantees
existence of the factual basis for the damages and its causal of freedom of speech, of expression, and of the press.
connection with the acts complained of,49 and so it must be, as moral
damages although incapable of pecuniary estimation are designed WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The assailed Decision of
not to impose a penalty but to compensate for injury sustained and the Court of Appeals dated 27 August 1998 is REVERSED and SET
actual damages suffered.50 Exemplary damages, on the other hand, ASIDE, and the Decision of the RTC-Br. 4, Manila, dismissing the
may only be awarded if claimant is able to establish his right to complaint for lack of merit, is REINSTATED and AFFIRMED. No
moral, temperate, liquidated or compensatory pronouncement as to costs.
damages.51 Unfortunately, neither of the requirements to sustain an
award for either of these damages would appear to have been
SO ORDERED.
adequately established by respondents."

In a pluralistic society like the Philippines where misinformation


about another individual's religion is as commonplace as self-
appointed critics of government, it would be more appropriate to
respect the fair criticism of religious principles, including those which
may be outrageously appalling, immensely erroneous, or those
couched as fairly informative comments. The greater danger in our
society is the possibility that it may encourage the frequency of suits
among religious fundamentalists, whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu,
Buddhist, Jewish, or others. This would unnecessarily make the civil
courts a battleground to assert their spiritual ideas, and advance
their respective religious agenda.

It need not be stressed that this Court has no power to determine


which is proper religious conduct or belief; neither does it have the
authority to rule on the merits of one religion over another, nor
declare which belief to uphold or cast asunder, for the validity of
religious beliefs or values are outside the sphere of the judiciary.
Such matters are better left for the religious authorities to address
what is rightfully within their doctrine and realm of influence. Courts
must be viewpoint-neutral when it comes to religious matters if only
to affirm the neutrality principle of free speech rights under modern
jurisprudence where "[a]ll ideas are treated equal in the eyes of the
First Amendment even those ideas that are universally
condemned and run counter to constitutional principles."52 Under the
right to free speech, "there is no such thing as a false idea. However
pernicious an opinion may seem, we depend for its correction not on
the conscience of judges and juries but on the competition of other